It’s been more than two months since Braves All-Star pitcher Shelby Miller got a win, and more than a month since he threw a pitch with anything except a zero in the runs column next to his team’s name.
His winless streak reached 11 starts Sunday with a 4-1 series-ending loss to the Chicago Cubs at Turner Field, a game that saw Miller allow just one earned run in six innings in a performance undermined by non-existent run support and a crucial throwing error by second baseman Jace Peterson.
“I thought Shelby threw great — every time he goes out there we’ve got a chance to win,” said Peterson, whose error led to two unearned runs in the second inning. “I thought he did everything he could. Unfortunately I didn’t make a play behind him, and I think in this situation it cost us.”
The Braves lost for the seventh time in eight games, while Miller fell to 0-5 in his past 11 starts despite a 3.15 ERA in that span. The Braves scored one or no runs while he was in eight of his past 10 starts, including none while he’s been in five of his past six.
Jake Arrieta (11-5) dominated a punchless Braves lineup for seven innings, and the Cubs scored three runs in the first three innings. Andrelton Simmons’ two-out RBI double in the ninth allowed the Braves to avert a second consecutive shutout.
Miller (5-6) was charged with four hits and three runs (one earned) in six innings, with four walks and eight strikeouts.
“I thought he did a nice job,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “We didn’t make a play behind him in the second inning and it cost him two runs. But not only the runs … it’s an extra 10 or 12 pitches that he’s got to throw to get out of that inning. Instead of going six innings he could have probably gone seven, or maybe worked a little bit less than he did.
“But I thought he gave us a good opportunity to win the game. I thought our bullpen this entire series was pretty good. They covered a lot of innings. And then today they gave us a good chance to win a game. We didn’t score. We scored one run in two games and our offense is not clicking right now.”
The only bright spot of the day for the Braves was attendance: 31,690, pushing the three-game series total to 119,980, the most for any series this season at Turner Field, including several four-game series.
Arrieta allowed three hits and three walks with 10 strikeouts in seven scoreless innings, improving to 5-0 with a 0.96 ERA in his past six starts. He has 44 strikeouts and eight walks in 46 2/3 innings over that torrid stretch, and the hard-throwing right-hander recorded four of the Cubs’ eight wins over their past 14 games.
A.J. Pierzynski, after breaking up Jon Lester’s no-hit bid with an eighth-inning single Saturday, got the first hit against Arrieta, a two-out double in the fourth inning.
Miller needed 96 pitches to get through five innings, and for a moment it looked as if he might become the third consecutive Braves starter to last only 4 2/3 innings. But after walking the bases loaded in the fifth, including a two-out walk to Chris Coghlan, Miller struck out Starlin Castro to end the inning.
The Braves scored three runs in the sixth inning of Miller’s last start at Colorado, before a pitching change had been announced, but he didn’t pitch in the bottom of the sixth. Those three runs were the only runs he’s gotten since June 13.
“Kind of got ourselves in a little bit of a jam there, and made a bad pitch and ended up giving two runs (in the second inning),” Miller said. “Other than that and the homer, I felt good. Been a while since I’ve thrown off the mound in a game against hitters, so to get back out there feels great. Unfortunate that we lost, but I feel like we played a good game.”
Jorge Soler’s home run to center with two out in the third pushed the lead to 3-0. It was Soler’s first since May 29, which was hard to imagine, given the ferocity with which he hit it.
When Miller struck out Arrieta with bases loaded for the second out of the second, it seemed Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s strategy of batting the pitcher eighth might backfire. Not so fast. No. 9 hitter Jonathan Herrera hit the next pitch, a 94-mph fastball, to center for a two-run single and a 2-0 lead.
Peterson’s error came on a high throw to Simmons at second on a one-out grounder, after Chris Coghlan’s single. Former Brave David Ross followed with a walk that loaded the bases.
“I just didn’t make the play,” Peterson said. “It’s a play I need to make and I didn’t make it. It kind of cost us the game. I make that play, it saves us two runs and it’s a different ballgame.”
The Braves’ two walks in the first inning – Peterson leading off, Kelly Johnson with two out – were half as many as Arrieta issued in his previous five starts. But with two in scoring position, Arrieta struck out Pierzynski. He also struck out Johnson to end the sixth inning with a runner at second, and struck out pinch-hitter Joey Terdoslavich to end the seventh inning with two runners on.